Careful what you ask for
|By Billy Cox|
Radioastronomer Seth Shostak, last making headlines in May alongside colleague Dan Wertheimer by appearing on Capitol Hill to appeal for congressional SETI funding, is one of the nicest, brightest and most approachable scientists you’ll ever want to meet. Even during disagreements over The Great Taboo, the SETI Institute’s senior astronomer is unfailingly cordial. So when British chemist Erol Faruk tuned into a podcast in which Shostak asked listeners to send him “just one good example” of UFO evidence, Faruk took him at his word
The results of Faruk’s quixotic quest for a fair hearing from Shostak and mainstream science have just been released in his self-published ebook on Amazon. It pretty much strips away the myth that institutional scholars would welcome Great Taboo data if Only They Had Decent Stuff To Study. Its title is a mouthful - The Indisputable Scientific Evidence for a UFO Landing and Deposition (aka The Delphos Case) that was denied Publication by Scientific Journals —but it’s a relatively succinct reiteration of the hallmark timidity that characterizes — or more aptly, impedes — America’s learning curve into terra incognita.
First, Erol Faruk has what exclusive groups like to call standing. He has a PhD in chemistry, worked research posts at Oxford and Nottingham universities, and became a development chemist at the corporation that became GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He has published peer-reviewed papers in arcane industry journals such as Helvetica Chimica Act, and The Journal of Antibiotics. He holds several formula patents. He speaks the language.
Years ago, Faruk got interested in the 1971 Delphos, Kan., UFO case. No need to rehash the whole thing here, you can read all about it online, but what sucked him in was the ring of glowing soil it left behind. The family took pictures moments after the UFO took off, local media and law enforcement converged on the scene, and the ring scars lingered long afterwards. Fungal growth was the chief suspect at the top of the conventional explanations list, but it couldn’t account for the temporary blindness alleged by one witness, nor the numbing sensation reported by another who touched the glowing earth when it was still fresh.
Faruk, years later, subjected several grams of affected soil to chemical analysis and discovered some puzzling behaviors in the sample compounds, including an apparent paradox in water soluble and water repellent properties. Most intriguing to him was how, as he would later write, the UFO “appears to have contained within its periphery an aqueous solution of an unstable compound whose likely sole function would be light emission.” Many UFOs are reported to glow. Maybe these trace effects held implications above and beyond this single event.
Faruk’s research was published in the Journal of UFO Studies in 1989. Analytical chemist Phyllis Budinger later weighed in with her own study. Budinger interpreted some of Faruk's findings differently, but she also discovered complexities that he had missed. JUFOS published Budinger's work in 2002.
Their combined efforts vanished with little comment. Faruk figured maybe that was because they were circulated in narrow-niche publications, and that it needed more eyes. So he decided to approach mainstream science journals, starting with Nature, the bible, in 2012. Maybe the exercise was doomed from the beginning, given the title of his paper — “The search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence on earth; strong chemical and physical evidence for the existence of an unconventional luminescent aircraft (commonly called a UFO) observed by multiple witnesses at a farm in Delphos, Kansas, USA.” Ugh, that acronym again. But this is where things get interesting.
After being initially rejected outright since his work had been previously published, Faruk explained how the paper could be reworked to satisfy Nature’s exemptions to that rule. But the Nature editor declined to even run it past journal referees. He said he was “unable to conclude that the work provides the sort of firm advance in general understanding that would warrant publication.”
(De Void will interject at this point that De Void would have run with the editors’ names. Faruk stated in an email “I didn't wish to put any names on journal editors, since this isn't a personal issue. Each of the editors have to watch their own backs anyway, and aren't likely to risk their own careers by publishing material their bosses might not be happy about.” De Void would argue the unnamed editors could earn brownie points among fraternal colleagues by being recognized for standing firm against The Great Taboo, but whatever ...)
Anyhow, Faruk shopped it to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, which informed him “the subject matter is not within the [journal’s] publication scope.” When Faruk reminded the editor a UFO-related paper had been published in its ostensibly unsullied pages seven years earlier, the editor retorted that was under another regime. “As I am Editor of JBIS,” he assured Faruk, “it is not my policy to promote the publication of UFO report papers.” The same editor admitted he hadn’t even read Faruk’s paper, “although I am sure it is a good read.” And oh, btw, “This is not to say it isn’t a worthwhile ‘phenomenon’ to study, I just don’t believe JBIS should be the home of such studies, where a higher standard of scientific rigor is required.”
Ouch. And without even reading it. Faruk would later discover JBIS had run yet another UFO article — alien abductions, actually — in 2010. JBIS declined to respond to Faruk's subsequent appeals for additional discourse.
Enter Seth Shostak’s encouraging podcast solicitation for UFO evidence. So Faruk forwarded his material to the guy. “I’m not a chemist, so can’t really speak to how unusual this ring was,” Shostak wrote back. “... And beyond that, the SETI Institute doesn’t investigate UFO sightings (we don’t have the staff ... we’re a very small group.”)
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